Munusamy Ramarmurth v Public Prosecutor

CourtCourt of Appeal (Singapore)
JudgeJudith Prakash JCA
Judgment Date27 October 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] SGCA 70
Citation[2022] SGCA 70
Published date01 November 2022
Hearing Date08 July 2022
Docket NumberCriminal Appeal No 31 of 2021
Plaintiff CounselSuresh s/o Damodara (Damodara Ong LLC) and Josephine Iezu Costan (David Nayar and Associates)
Defendant CounselChin Jincheng, Chong Yong and Benedict Chan (Attorney-General's Chambers)
Subject MatterCriminal Law,Statutory offences,Misuse of Drugs Act,Constitutional Law,Accused person,Rights,Evidence,Weight of evidence
Judith Prakash JCA (delivering the judgment of the court): Introduction

The appellant, Munusamy Ramarmurth, was convicted in the General Division of the High Court (“High Court”) on one charge of possessing 57.54g of diamorphine for the purposes of trafficking under s 5(1)(a) read with s 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act (Cap 185, 2008 Rev Ed) (“MDA”). The appellant did not receive a certificate of substantive assistance from the Prosecution and, accordingly, he received the mandatory death penalty. He now appeals against his conviction and sentence. Aside from challenging the court’s findings on the elements of the charge, he also raises arguments regarding misconduct by law enforcement officers during the trial.

Factual background

The facts of the present case were recounted in detail by the High Court Judge (“the Judge”) in Public Prosecutor v Munusamy Ramarmurth [2021] SGHC 255 (“the Judgment”). We provide a brief summary.

On 26 January 2018, sometime after 11am, the appellant parked his motorcycle (“the Motorcycle”) at an open-air carpark (“the Carpark”) located along Harbourfront Avenue and proceeded to Harbourfront Centre, Tower 2, to take up his duties as a cleaner. At some point thereafter he opened the rear box of the Motorcycle and thereafter closed it before leaving the Carpark. Sometime after 1pm, officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (“CNB”) were positioned at Harbourfront Avenue. They located the Motorcycle in the Carpark and thereafter kept an eye on it. No one approached the Motorcycle while it was under observation.

Several hours later, at around 4.05pm, the appellant was arrested by the CNB officers in a cleaners’ room at Harbourfront Centre, Tower 2. He was then escorted to the Carpark and a search of the Motorcycle was conducted in his presence. A red plastic bag (“the Red Bag”) was recovered from the rear box of the Motorcycle. Packages inside the Red Bag were analysed and found to contain not less than 57.54g of diamorphine (“the Drugs”).

During investigations, the appellant voluntarily gave nine statements (“the Statements”) to the CNB. These included four contemporaneous statements on the day of his arrest (the 1st to 4th Statements individually; the “Contemporaneous Statements” collectively); a cautioned statement one day later (the 5th Statement); and four long statements on 31 January and 2 February 2018 (the 6th to 9th Statements individually; the “Long Statements” collectively). In the Statements, the appellant alleged that he had not seen the Red Bag prior to his arrest; that he did not know what it contained; and that his involvement with a man called Saravanan, a Malaysian who could not enter Singapore, was limited to collecting money on Saravanan’s behalf.

The appellant was charged with possession of the Drugs for the purpose of trafficking under s 5(1)(a) read with s 5(2) of the MDA. He claimed trial in the High Court. At the trial, contrary to his earlier position, he did not dispute that he had known that the Red Bag was in the rear box of the Motorcycle. Instead, he argued that he did not know that it contained the Drugs and that he did not possess it for the purpose of trafficking.

In his testimony, the appellant claimed that on the day of his arrest, Saravanan had called him and had told him that a person (referred to as “Boy”) had placed the Red Bag in the rear box of the Motorcycle. During the conversation, Saravanan also referred to a previous incident in July 2017 (“the July 2017 Incident”) in which Saravanan had asked him to store stolen handphones which were later retrieved by Boy and Saravanan. Thereafter the appellant had returned to the Carpark to unlock the rear box of the Motorcycle. When he did so, he saw the Red Bag inside the box but did not open it to check its contents. He alleges that he then closed the rear box without locking it.

Thus, the appellant’s defence was that he thought that the Red Bag contained stolen handphones and that Boy would retrieve them later. On the latter point, he did not assert that the Drugs were for himself. Instead, his defence was that since he thought the Red Bag would be retrieved by Boy, he did not possess it with the intention that it would be moved along any supply or distribution process, ie, he invoked the “bailment” defence.

The Judge rejected the appellant’s version of events, primarily on the basis that it never appeared in any of the Statements – he was thus unable to rebut the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA and was also found to have possessed the Drugs for the purposes of trafficking. Accordingly, he was convicted and sentenced as stated.

Issues on appeal

Before us, the appellant has raised many challenges to the soundness of the conviction. These may be categorised into four broad areas: Challenges relating to the weight to be placed on the Statements (“the Statements Issue”). Challenges relating to the presumption of knowledge under s 18(2) of the MDA (“the Knowledge Issue”). Challenges relating to whether he possessed the Drugs for the purposes of trafficking (“the Trafficking Issue”). A challenge relating to the conduct of the investigating officer, Derek Wong (“IO Wong”), and whether this caused prejudice (“the Prejudice Issue”).

We will consider the merit of each ground in turn.

The Statements Issue

As we have noted, the appellant relied on two main defences before the Judge. First, with regard to the element of knowledge, he claimed that he thought the Red Bag contained stolen handphones, not the Drugs. Secondly, in relation to the element of possession for the purposes of trafficking, he claimed that he was told that Boy would retrieve the Red Bag from him, and thus he was only a “bailee”. Both were rejected by the Judge. On appeal, he continues to rely on these defences, arguing that the Judge was wrong to reject them.

He is impeded in establishing these defences by the fact that the Statements do not contain the details of either defence. In explaining these omissions, the appellant argues that the Contemporaneous Statements were either not accurately recorded or were fabricated. Such assertions were raised before the Judge, but were rejected.

On appeal, he maintains this contention. He also argues that less weight should be given to his Statements as he had not been advised on the operation of the presumptions in the MDA, and it had not been made clear to him during investigations what presumptions would be operating against him. In making these arguments, he raises his right to counsel under Art 9(3) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (2020 Rev Ed) (“the Constitution”), as well as the case of Zainal bin Hamad v Public Prosecutor and another appeal [2018] 2 SLR 1119 (“Zainal”).

The accuracy and authenticity of the Contemporaneous Statements

During the trial, the appellant challenged the accuracy and authenticity of the Contemporaneous Statements. A large portion of the Judge’s reasoning was spent on this challenge, and she ultimately rejected it as being unmeritorious. In his petition of appeal, the appellant again raised this challenge, but he did not mention this line of argument in his oral and written submissions. For completeness, we deal briefly with this point.

In our judgment, the Judge was correct to reject the contentions. To begin with, the appellant’s allegation that the 4th Statement was fabricated by the CNB officers is a non-starter. It was set out in the Agreed Statement of Facts accepted by the appellant at the trial that the 4th Statement was given by him voluntarily. Neither during the trial nor on appeal, did the appellant explain this inconsistency. Further, he did not try to remove this concession from the Agreed Statement of Facts.

Turning to the 1st Statement, the appellant alleged that the recording officer had left out several details which he had mentioned. The Judge rejected this contention, noting that the appellant had signed the statement, and that the evidence of another CNB officer corroborated that it was recorded accurately. On appeal, the appellant has offered nothing to challenge the Judge’s reasoning. Further, there is nothing in the evidence to suggest that her conclusion was wrong. We thus uphold her finding on this point.

Next, we deal with the appellant’s allegations pertaining to the 2nd and 3rd Statements. These two statements form one series of questions and answers, but they were recorded at two different times on the day of the appellant’s arrest. The 2nd Statement was recorded at 4.55pm, and the 3rd Statement was recorded four hours later at 8.58pm. The appellant claims that two points recorded in these statements were not recorded properly. It is notable, however, in relation to the 2nd and 3rd Statements, that the appellant was unable to explain during the trial why, at the time he was signing the statements, he was unable to spot and point out or correct the alleged errors.

His first contention relates to a point that was recorded in both the 2nd and 3rd Statements. In both these statements, the appellant either stated or accepted that he had passed a package to someone else before his arrest. In the 2nd Statement, the appellant is recorded as saying that he had given a package to a man named “Abang”, and that Abang had then given him $8,000. In the 3rd Statement, he was asked what he had given to Abang, and he replied that he only remembered that it was “one package”.

The appellant’s assertion is that he had actually told the recording officer...

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